Life Gets Worse Before it Gets Better

During the Civil War, it was acceptable for Blacks to submit to some discrimination in the military in order to gain advancement for the future. In class, we learned about two different instances where blacks submitted to whites, which lead to their freedom or advancement in later years.

Blacks who were allowed into the army were allowed in with lower pay, and were not treated as equals. They were mainly accepted into the army because whites would rather them die than themselves. In an excerpt from the song  “Private Miles O’Reilly” by Charles G. Halpine, they sing “But as for me, upon my soul! So liberal are we here, I’ll let Sambo be murthered instead of myself”. The soldiers thought lesser of the Blacks, and did not think is was as bad for them to be killed in combat. But as the war went on and Blacks were more involved in the army, they began to gain respect and move up in the ranks.A union soldier from 1863 reflected on Blacks being in the military, saying “a year ago last January I didn’t like to hear anything of emancipation. Last fall accepted confiscation of Rebel’s negros quietly. In January took to emancipation readily, and now… am becoming so (color) blind that I that I can’t see why they will not make soldiers… I almost begin to think of applying for a position in a (black) regiment myself”. This quote shows the changing views of white soldiers in the military towards Black soldiers. Although they had to face lower wages and discrimination in the beginning, towards the end Whites started to realize that Blacks should be allowed to fight as equals.

Another instance where it was acceptable for Blacks to accept discrimination was with Silas Dean, who was a slave depicted as a Confederate soldier in a portrait.

taken from the class notes

taken from the class notes

In Silas’s case, it was acceptable for him to follow along with his master, even though it was degrading. The majority of Blacks would never fight for the Confederacy, because that was the side that was fighting for slavery. But because Silas obeyed his master and hung around, he eventually gained his freedom. He was released from slavery by his owner only because he was so loyal. If he has submitted to the discrimination of his master and refused to pose for the picture, he most likely would have never been freed. Obeying his master ultimately led to Silas’ freedom from slavery.


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